Summer on the Chapala Malecon

The Chapala malecon is the focus of the city. Everyone gravitates there. To play, to sit, to smooch, to drink, to run, to skateboard, to bike. We walk its length (well, most of it) pretty much every day. It’s endlessly fascinating. And we get to observe the little changes that come with the seasons and the holidays and festivals and just the flow of life here in Mexico.

Last week, we briefly discussed the sudden appearance of water plants taking over the lakeshore over the past three weeks. Turns out the plants are water hyacinths, water lettuces and reeds. You can read more about the details here.

What’s new this week is a rigorous cleanup effort. Men with tools raking the plants onto the shore and a tractor busy piling the debris for disposal.

The malecon seems to be the pride of Chapala. Although we rarely encounter any clean-up efforts, it’s clear that the malecon in cleaned regularly. The abundant trash receptacles are cleared; the stones of the walkway are washed; streetlight bulbs are replaced.

One morning, Bonita had an early flight out of Guadalajara, well before dawn (typically dawn is around 7AM in the summer), and we drove through town on our way to the airport. Sure enough, an army of workers were out on the streets and sidewalks, sweeping and cleaning.

The Chapala sign is one of the most popular spots on the malecon. It’s at the intersection of the main boulevard of the city with the malecon and right across the street from the cathedral. Pretty much whenever we walk by the sign, there’s a line of people patiently waiting for their turn to have their picture taken or to take a picture.

Well-kempt trees create shade for sitting and picnicking and just hanging out. People take pictures, read books, and mostly socialize.

And there’s plenty of fun for the kids. Periodically carnival rides appear, replete with blinking lights and acerbic noises that clearly the kids love.

And there’s a skateboard park (there on the right in the photo above) for older children and teens.

 

Summer on the Chapala malecon. Delightful.

 

Chapala in Summer Is……………

Okay, time for the first exam. Write an essay describing your summer living in Chapala in summer. Oh, wait. Summer school??? After all these years? So, we’ll go ahead and discuss what Chapala in summer is, during this, our first summer in Chapala.

Chapala in summer is………rainy season.

At least that’s what the data at weatherbase.com tells us.

Average Precipitation
Years on Record: 53 Chart This
ANNUAL JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
in 34.6 0.5 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.9 6.9 9 7.7 6 2 0.6 0.4

There it is, in black and white.

When we first investigated the weather here, from the wilds of Wisconsin, we were taken aback at the rain in June, July, August, and even September. On our exploratory trip to Chapala in September, 2017 we experienced some rain, and clearly it had rained heavily prior to our arrival, with large puddles almost flooding some of the roads closer to the lakeside.

So, we’ve been expecting lots of dreary rainy days here this summer.

No so.

We were quite wrong.

Our experience so far is that the rain comes at night. We’ve awoken to discover outside on the street lots of run-off and puddles, which, I will add, quickly dissipate. And we’ve heard thunder in the night as well.

Yet during the day, we’ve had very little rain. Yes, it can be cloudy and rain-threatening. Typically though, the dark clouds clear and the sun bursts through with blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds just as I see looking out our back windows as I write.

Moreover, we expected the temperature to rise into the “hot and muggy” zone. What we’d always experienced in the U.S. (at least in humid climates). This despite what weatherbase said. We just didn’t believe it.

Average Temperature
Years on Record: 50 Chart This
ANNUAL JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
F 66 60 62 66 69 71 71 68 68 68 66 64 62

We thought, “Nah”. Too good to be true. But it is. We are living it. Glory hallelujah!

So why, exactly, is this such a popular area for snowbirds? The expat populations swells between October and April and then drops precipitously as the snowbirds fly back up North. To what? Well, as far as we can tell, temperatures that are way warmer than here. No thanks, we’ll stay put.

Chapala in summer is………a lake in transition.

We love that summer here is not a series of rainy days. Yet, there is all that rain, over more than fifty years of history. Where does all that rain go? A lot of it ends up feeding the tributary rivers for Lake Chapala. From what to us was disturbingly large dwindling of the level of water in an already shallow lake, so far this year I am told the lake has risen more than a foot.

The rise is readily apparent at the malecon. The shoreline itself is closer to the malecon. Docks and jetties that during the winter were abandoned by the lake are once again out over the water.

Perhaps most surprising, the rise in the lake has been accompanied by a rash of vegetation on the lake close to the shore. We haven’t yet discovered the science behind this phenomenon; we’re just quiet observers of the ebb and flow of life lived close to the lakefront.

dav

Chapala in summer is………the locals wearing t-shirts in English.

Most of the locals we meet in Chapala speak about as much English as we speak Spanish, which is to say, not much at all. We get by easily enough though. We make the effort to communicate en espanol and they in turn do their best to understand us. They try in English. Together, with these exchanges and some charades-like acting out, we come to an understanding.

So we’re a little surprised by the sheer number of t-shirts we see on the locals with slogans in English. Some are rude (with English four-letter words); most are simply cute. Our guess is that the wearers don’t know what the t-shirts say, they like the design or got a good deal on them. This is apparent too from the selection at Walmart, which is filled with English-language t-shirts, especially for infants and young children.

Chapala in summer is………eating at the malecon.

They’re grilling corn, making tortillas, firing up carne (meat), serving ice cream and sorbets. It’s all here and it seems everyone enjoys it. Hawkers pass by with what look like delicious large tortillas slathered with honey and generously sprinkled with cinnamon. And don’t forget the cotton candy.

Chapala in summer is………discovering the difference in ATMs. Okay, maybe this is not directly related to summer. But we experienced it today and think it’s well worth sharing.

We’ve been going to an ATM in the center of Chapala at a BBVA Bancomer branch. El Centro has at least four locations with ATMs. There’s often a line at most of them.

We’ve been paying a fees of 80+ pesos for withdrawing cash from these machines using our bank cards. That’s about $4 U.S. We also then pay about $2 for the exchange to our bank. Okay, the price of doing business.

Then today I needed some cash to shop at Walmart. There’s a couple of ATMs there. BBVA Bancomer machines.

Inserting my card and clicking through the screens, I arrived at the point of withdrawal. The fee? 32 pesos. Nice, huh? Quite a difference. Guess where we’re going for our pesos from now on?

Yes, we do love Walmart. Thanks, guys and gals.

 

A Visit to Isla del Presidio

Lake Chapala is simply gorgeous. A mile above sea level, surrounded by high, steep and severe mountains towering up to almost 8,000 feet, the Lake sits in a deep bowl. As noted in an earlier post on the condition of the Lake, the water is shallow, with an average depth of 14 feet.

The Lake is also dotted with islands, some close to shore; others more distant, the Isla del Presidio among them. Several are readily visible from either the Chapala or the Ajijic malecon.  Isla del Presidio is not. It, like others, requires travel to observe.

Isla del Presidio is a worthy day trip from Chapala. It’s accessible one of two ways. Either by hiring a boat on the Chapala malecon (about 500 pesos–$20 U.S. per person with a minimum of four) or by driving to the town closest to the Isla, Mezcala.

Driving to Mezcala, although only some 13 miles from Chapala, is an adventure. The quality of the road deteriorates the further away you get from Chapala. Entering Mezcala is deep Mexico, almost a different world from the expat-laden parts of the lakeside. We didn’t encounter anyone in Mezcala that spoke English; we were very glad to have been accompanied by a Mexican friend who is fluent in both languages.

Mezcala has its own beauty and its own malecon where a few boats are moored awaiting travelers who have made the trek to visit the Isla del Presidio.

Our friend negotiated our trip and off we went. It’s about a 20 minute boat ride out to the island.

Isla del Presidio played a significant role in the Mexican War of Independence with embattled forces literally holding the fort on the island. This isn’t a history lesson though and if the history interests you (as it did me), you can read about it here.

The boatman dropped us off at a little inlet close to some ruins in various states of disrepair and a relatively modern structure that appeared to be a visitors’ center unoccupied, un-staffed, forlorn and lonely. We had an hour and a half to explore.

The Island is rugged. By that I mean that the shoreline, where the island meets the water, is stuffed with vegetation and trees and cliffs. It was easy to imagine how it was chosen as a location for a fort.

After a short, steep climb, we arrived at a sloping more open area of the island where the clear ruins of the old military installations dot the landscape. The structures seem to have obviously been built at different times in history; some are close to ruin; others appear to have simply been abandoned and await a hoped-for but highly unlikely resurrection.

There’s a church, of course, a hollow shell now.

And an old-fashioned fort, like in many of the old westerns that so entranced me as a child.

Clearly one problem here though. Food and water. Not enough surface land to grow food to feed an army and drilling for water through what is obviously solid rock and one can understand why the battles fought here ultimately went to the assailants rather than the defenders.

We regretted that we only had an hour and a half. Way too little time for a thorough exploration.

At the requisite time we made our way back to the inlet, knowing that we would return for more adventure.

 

An (Extra) Ordinary Day in Chapala: The Visit of the Virgen de Zapopan

It’s Sunday. A day of rest. At least for us here in Chapala. It’s also the day we head over to Ol-Lin for Sunday brunch and to pick up the weekly supply of scrumptious tamales to enjoy through the week. Then, some reading, some walking, maybe a few chores, just enjoying. An ordinary day, or so I thought.

Each week we procure a copy of the Guadalajara Reporter, the local English language newspaper that cover Guad, lakeside (as the Chapala area is called) and Puerto Valletta.  I’d read that the North to South bound lanes of Avenida Madero, the main entry and exit from Chapala, would be closed from 7AM until around Noon, for the annual summer pilgrimage of the Virgen de Zapopan. So noted.

When i left for Ol-Lin, I turned right out of our street and headed the couple of blocks to the malecon, where I turned right again toward the Centro and from there toward Ajijic and Ol-Lin. Looking ahead, I could see the telltale signs that Centro was blocked. Oh, yes, the visit of the Virgen. So I turned around and went to Ol-Lin the back way.

Not thinking too much about it.

After a delicious brunch, I started home. Remembering that Centro had been blocked, I retraced my route the back way. This would put on the the North-South part of the main drag, which I knew would be blocked but hoped that I would be able to turn off before the hubbub.

Headed up the entrance ramp to the Avenida, I saw a police car, lights on, parked on the shoulder just after the ramp. And looking at the road so I could merge, I see a tight cluster of cars and one that looked like the Pope-mobile. I had arrived at the exact same time as the Virgen.

Of course I pulled over and waited. After the official car and entourage, there were miles of motorcycles following. And bicycles. And cars. Ten minutes and they were still rolling by. Finally the traffic thinned out enough for me to merge, make my turn and get home.

Now I was curious. What was this all about? Apparently a much larger deal than I had assumed. So I grabbed my phone and headed for the malecon.

Buses linked the street bordering the park. Many of them. And people were streaming toward the malecon. As I arrived there I spotted motorcycles parked where typically cars and trucks would be.

Sure enough, the malecon was hopping. And as I approached the Centro side of the malecon, the crowds thickened.

dav

Motorcyclists, mixed with the usual extended families, vendors, and lots of people outfitted in what I could only describe as looking like Wild West Days. Brightly colored “Indian” costumes. Eye-popping.

dav

And a ceremony in process in front of the Cathedral. Attended by the bikers and caballeros and families in a swirling mass of humanity. Sprinkle in more than a few vendors–corn on the cob, ice cream, cotton candy, tortillas and lots of other goodies–and there’s a party, Mexican-style.

And yet, for all the color and party atmosphere, there was a sanctity. For this was the pilgrimage of the Virgen de Zapopan

. A most sacred figure with almost 500 years of history in this Mexican state of Jalisco.

So here was an ordinary day in Chapala. That is, extra-ordinary. Life here is full of surprises. Amen.

Why We Expatriated?

Mea culpa! A reader asked recently about why we expatriated. I distinctly remember writing our explanation early on in developing this blog and now darned if I can find it. We did response to another reader on this topic and we’re adapting this response into a more robust explanation. So, here goes, why we expatriated.

Today, July 1, 2018 is election day in Mexico. It’s been a noisy and even violent election season. Best of all, we don’t have a dog in this fight. We get to ignore all the rhetoric, all the hub-bub, all the noise. And we, as foreigners, are expressly forbidden to, per the Mexican constitution.

For us, this quietude is totally refreshing. We get to ignore politics. Now, of course, we don’t totally tune out. We need to be aware of seismic shifts in the social, cultural, economic and political landscape. And we are. It has just been so refreshing to be able to pretty much ignore the political circus.

Could we do that in the States? Not hardly. The political environment in the U.S. has grown so toxic in our estimation that it’s creeping into everyday life there in glaring and obtrusive ways. And we got more and more tired of that.

To be sure, the political environment was not the main reason for our expatriation. Still, it was a factor.

Before we pulled the trigger on the move to Mexico, we thought long and hard. It has been a decision years in the making. It has involved a ton of angst and hand-wringing and perplexity. But we needed an answer. Not to satisfy our friends and family, but for us. To know, deep within ourselves, that this decision was the right one at the right time. So, readers, here’s our current answer. Undoubtedly it will morph and re-form and this blog will record those changes. But for now, here is the answer:

We’re boomers, baby boomers that is. Children of the 50s, coming of age in the 60s, the era of hippies and free love and John Lennon crooning Imagine. Maturing in the Me Decade of the 70s, going corporate in the 80s and 90s and entrepreneurs in the 2000s and 2010s.

We grew up in an America that had ideals rather than platitudes. Did we meet those ideals? Heck no, but there they were, sometimes inspiring, sometimes taunting, always in the background and sometimes in the foreground.

We believed, and still believe, in the American Dream. Not the dream of shop til you drop or nuke’em til they glow, but the Dream of a good life for us and a better life for the next generation.

Instead, we’ve watched our elected officials sell us down the river. We recall with not a bit of irony the words of then presidential candidate George Wallace (1968), there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. How sad that his words were so true, even though then we didn’t see it as so. We still believed that our government had our interests at heart. We don’t anymore.

And approaching retirement age, social security and medicare, we have run smack into the awkward truth that healthcare in the U.S. is incontestably broken. This became painfully clear when one of us received the 2018 pricing for coverage under Obamacare. The premium would go from about $75 a month (the premium paid by us–the actual premium was around $650) to $450 a month (with no change in income level). Forgive us for not even looking at the total cost of the coverage. All this and a measly $6500 deductible. The ugly truth was that the cost of healthcare coverage for one of us would be more than our housing cost, all in, per month.

But but but I can hear, healthcare in the U.S. is the best in the world. Sadly, on an empirical basis, it is not. What it is, is by far the most expensive in the world, by magnitudes. We were forced to face this unfortunate truth in making the expatriate decision.

We also expatriated for climate. Political climate, yes, yet physical climate as well. One of us is adverse to the cold; one to the heat. So we needed a geography that would satisfy both. We found that geography in Lake Chapala, Mexico.

Every day I can look at the weather in our former abode in Wisconsin as I sit here overlooking the pool at our rental unit and watch the hummingbirds feed. Here it’s perpetually in the 70s with occasional dips into the 60s during the winter and the 80s during this, the summer. It’s okay, just as in the States, we have air conditioning.

In contrast, in our former abode, we observe temperatures of minus twenty (or lower) in the winter and excessive heat warnings as I write this, in the high nineties during the summer.

Which do we prefer? We voted with our feet.

Finally, for now, work ethic and the balance of life. We didn’t know this until we actually arrived here and got to really know the area and observe the culture here. Wherever we go, we see people hustling, in the sense of being entrepreneurs, doing what it takes to earn a living.

The social safety net in Mexico is thin. So people here turn to making their own way. I know it’s not to everyone’s taste. Everywhere we go in Mexico, we are approached on the street by individuals selling a variety of goods. Candy, tortillas, plastic thingamabobs, flowers, ice cream, pretty much everything that can be carried and sold. Vendors of such goods also set up on street corners and hawk goods to cars stopped at lights.

Can this be annoying? Sure. But, on the other hand, people are making their way here.

And the exchanges here are so pleasant, most of the time. Vendors greet me and treat me as a person, not someone to get rid of as quickly as possible and move on. I like that.

If I say no, gracias to a vendor, they move on without a fuss.

Yes, there is the hustle. And it is mixed with a lovely ethic of family life and caring for people. I keep running into entire families, grandma and grandpa, even great grandma and great grandpa and the sons and daughters and the toddlers and the infants. Everyone is cared for; everyone is cherished.

Does this still exist in the States? Sure it does, yet, less and less it seems as the government takes over more and more responsibility and control. Where is that leading? I don’t know.

I really like what we have found here. And having reduced our material life to a carload, if the need arises, we can move on.

For now, though, and for the foreseeable future, we are loving life here.